Juneteenth to be National Holiday

It passed the Senate unanimously.

NPR (“Senate Unanimously Approves A Bill To Make Juneteenth A Public Holiday“):

The Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would make Juneteenth, the date commemorating the end of chattel slavery in the United States, a legal public holiday.

The holiday is celebrated on June 19, and it began in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the proclamation outlawing slavery years earlier, but it was not until 1865 that those in bondage in Texas were freed.

The measure is expected to be approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives as well, but the timing is unclear.

“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”

I must say, I was completely unaware that this was being seriously considered. Given that we can’t get the Senate to do much of anything, let alone unanimously, it’s inconceivable that the House won’t pass this and President Biden won’t sign it into law.

From a logistical standpoint, we’ll have three holidays in close proximity (Memorial Day, Juneteenth, and Independence Day) in early summer; four (Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving ) clustered in the fall; four (Christmas, New Year, MLK, and Washington’s Birthday) in the winter; and still none* in the spring.

Given that there are currently only ten federal holidays, adding another one is a big deal. This is the second created in my lifetime, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday (1983). That both acknowledge the legacy of slavery is fitting.

*Yes, Memorial Day technically falls in the spring but is widely considered the unofficial start of summer.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Spring requires no holidays: it’s Spring!

    This is both good and weird. Unanimous consent? Are we sure we’re not being spoofed?

    1
  2. Kathy says:

    What does unanimously mean? Were all GOP senators absent and it passed 50-0?

    This is a good date to celebrate, regardless of poltics.

    BTW, Holidays do tend to cluster for some reason. In Mexico there are holidays, official and traditional, in January, February, March, April, and May, then none in June, July, and August, then again in September, October, November, and December.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Unanimous consent is a good thing, full stop.

    That said, I expect we will shortly see some furious signally in the other direction from the Republicans. “Good people on both sides”, or the equivalent.

    4
  4. Teve says:

    The House bill has 166 cosponsors.

    2 are Republican.

    7
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    That does it. The Woke have gone too far this time.

    3
  6. Joe says:

    If only Juneteenth fell in April!

    2
  7. Mu says:

    I suggest we celebrate Juneteens on the Monday following the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March.

    1
  8. Jen says:

    Creating a public holiday is one thing, but isn’t getting states to recognize it another?

    MLK Day was made a federal holiday in 1986. South Carolina finally got on board in 2000.

    IIRC, Arizona, Missouri, and others dragged their feet too. New Hampshire called MLK Day “Civil Rights Day” until 1999.

    All that said, it’s nice that the Senate passed this unanimously.

    3
  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Hard to believe this many Republican bigots (redundant) signed onto this. Did they know what it was about?

  10. Mikey says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Sure they knew what it’s about, but for them it’s the legislative equivalent of “I’m not racist, I have a black friend.”

    4
  11. Scott says:

    Time to ditch Columbus Day. Make Election Day a national holiday (or move it to a Saturday)

    15
  12. Teve says:

    @Scott: when Ron Johnson suggested that last year, perhaps as a Poison Pill for the Juneteenth legislation, Tucker Carlson attacked him.

    Christopher Columbus was a monster by the standards of his day and his name should be occasion for spitting.

    3
  13. CSK says:

    John Cornyn has been the lead author of a resolution to make this a national holiday since 2011. The resolution this year was co-authored by Sheila Jackson Lee and Ed Markey.

    3
  14. Paine says:

    As for why repubs would sign such a bill:

    * It’s harmless with zero policy implications.
    * It’s a gimme to the Manchins and Sinemas of the Senate, feeding their delusions of bipartisanship. “See, bipartisanship is possible; so let me block this other bill as it doesn’t have bipartisan support.’

    4
  15. inhumans99 says:

    Putting aside that another opportunity to acknowledge the end of slavery is always a good thing, from a purely selfish point of view while it would be nice if the stretch between Holidays in the Spring was not as long, breaking up the usually hot Summer months with Holidays fairly evenly spaced out between May, Jun, July, beginning of September is not so bad.

    I assume this will not be a bank/education institution only Holiday, and one that actually gets added to companies list of Holidays that employees get to take off w/pay. Anything that adds to that list is awesomesauce in my book.

    1
  16. Joe says:

    @Paine:

    * It’s harmless with zero policy implications.

    As a small business operator, it does not have zero policy implications. I get that the U.S. probably has fewer holidays than most industrialized countries and I support using another one for this (and I could live without Columbus Day or Veteran’s Day), but it does not have zero policy implications.

  17. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Joe:

    As a small business operator, it does not have zero policy implications.

    Aside from government offices being closed, how does it affect you?

    1
  18. MarkedMan says:

    “Unanimous Consent” is not the same as “Unanimous”. It means that no one actually votes for the bill. Rather, someone proposes Unamimous Consent, it is seconded and then if no one objects, the bill is passed. It allows Republicans to avoid going on record.

    Someone up above mentioned that there were 160 Democratic co-sponsors and only 2 Republicans. That is a much better indication of how Republican’s view the end of slavery. i.e. May or may not think it was a good thing, but definitely don’t want to go on the record saying so.

    7
  19. JKB says:

    As a holiday, Juneteenth is well placed, but it is/was not the end of chattel slavery in the US. That came on December 18, 1865 when the slaves in the Union and those Confederate areas occupied when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed were freed.

    Legally, the last 40,000–45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states of Kentucky and Delaware[299] by the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 18, 1865. Slaves still held in Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and twelve parishes of Louisiana[300] also became legally free on this date.

    2
  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, how to read this? It seems that there are enough R Senators who are willing to vote for this that the filibuster is out of the question. Which means that it’s going to pass regardless of how the other R Senators vote. In which case they have decided that it works better for them politically to vote for it than go on record opposing it.

    Even the worst-case guys – whomever you might think they are – think it’s better to go on record as supporting this as it does opposing it. That’s kind of good news, really. I mean, I could have imagined a calculation of “voting against this will help me in my next primary” – except no, they didn’t do that. So that’s something … maybe not much, but something.

    Put that together with what’s happening in the SBC, and it seems we’ve reached the limits of what the right will put up with.

    1
  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    In which case they have decided that it works better for them politically to vote for it

    Just to reiterate my comments above, no one voted for it. It was passed by unanimous consent. That method’s official purpose is as a timersaver, i.e. to recognize that a bill will pass and that there is no need to spend the time going through an official vote. In practice it is used to give any individual Senate political cover. Unless they are a sponsor of the bill there is no record of whether they individually supported or opposed it.

    6
  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Teve:

    Christopher Columbus was a monster by the standards of his day and his name should be occasion for spitting.

    He was also completely wrong: it was generally known at the time that the earth was round and roughly how big around it was. He convinced himself everyone else was wrong and the earth was actually half it’s calculated size.

    The only reason he and his entire crew didn’t die out in the middle of the ocean was he got lucky and there was a previously unknown to western Europe continent where he thought India was going to be.

    2
  23. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    As a holiday, Juneteenth is well placed, but it is/was not the end of chattel slavery in the US.

    Similarly, Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, the first joint harvest festival of Pilgrims and Native Americans was almost certainly not in November, much less on any specific Thursday, and none of the important bits related to the Declaration of Independence happened on July 4. This puts Juneteenth in illustrious company.

    17
  24. @JKB:

    As a holiday, Juneteenth is well placed, but it is/was not the end of chattel slavery in the US.

    This is true.

    It also true that June 19, 1865 was when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Galvaston, TX and it became the date to commemorate freedom. It has long been celebrated by Blacks in Texas.

    It has recently expanded nationally (the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery has had a Juneteenth celebration annually for years).

    As a date to commemorate the end of slavery it makes plenty of sense.

    9
  25. @Steven L. Taylor: Put another way: it is probably not appropriate for white pedants to “well, actually” the date that many Blacks have been commemorating for over a century.

    15
  26. @DrDaveT: Also this.

    3
  27. dazedandconfused says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    As a predictor of success intelligence isn’t all that great.

    The coincidences of the discovery and conquest are unbelievable. Columbus discovered land about where he predicted he would. Cortez happened to show up in Mexico precisely when the Aztec seers had predicted the Feathered Serpent would return, right on the ending of their 52 year calendar cycle. The crazy bastard burned his ships to keep his men from bolting, he had no retreat. 500 stranded Castilians against millions.

    If there were to be a fitting monument to those guys it would be a horse shoe and two stone balls.

  28. Just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds: my guess is that the GOP prefers giving those people a holiday to giving them the franchise.

    1
  29. Just nutha says:

    @Mikey: THIS!!!!

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..the date that many Blacks have been commemorating for over a century.
    Just what are you talking about? Every one knows that if it wasn’t for JKB’s boyfriend, Former President Donald Trump, no one would know anything about any of this.
    Trump Claims ‘Nobody Had Ever Heard Of’ Juneteenth Before He Made It ‘Very Famous’

    6
  31. Joe says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Well, the courts are closed and I manage a law office, so, that. And while we are not required to close on government holidays, there is some general pressure to close on holidays, and, frankly I would put this holiday ahead of Columbus Day or Veteran’s Day. Days an business is closed are days businesses don’t generate revenues, though they usually still accumulate costs. These are not insurmountable problems, but it’s still not zero.

    4
  32. Jay L Gischer says:

    @MarkedMan: I had to look at several articles before the word “consent” appeared. It’s not in the piece linked by the OP. Just sayin’

    Meanwhile, in this Senate are several Senators who were willing to go on record with a vote that says the election was stolen, but none of them wanted to go on record opposing Juneteenth as a holiday. That’s interesting.

    2
  33. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Absolutely. If the man had a single redeeming quality, I have yet to hear about it.

  34. Teve says:

    I’ll just c&p this comment from last night

    Teve says:
    Tuesday, 15 June 2021 at 21:40

    On Twitter, some nitwit asked, “what is even the purpose of Juneteenth?” And if you thought, well, surely most of the responses won’t be white people telling Black people that Juneteenth is the wrong date and if they wanted to celebrate Emancipation Day they should celebrate such and such date instead, YOU ARE RONG Cause that’s exactly what happened.

    3
  35. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thing a lot of people aren’t aware of: Eratosthenes figured out the circumference of the earth in 200BC and got a result (252,000 stadia) within 2% of the actual value.

    One of the best science classes I had in grade school was the time we went out in the parking lot of the school and redid his experiment to come up with our own measurements of the earth’s circumference.

    2
  36. Jen says:

    @JKB:

    That came on December 18, 1865 when the slaves in the Union and those Confederate areas occupied when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed were freed.

    IIRC, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed/went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. It was actually issued earlier, in Sept. of 1862.

    3
  37. Jen says:

    @Jen: And, to be clear, this exactly why I agree with @Steven L. Taylor: that it is not at all appropriate to split hairs/correct those who were most directly impacted by this–there are a number of dates that *could* be pointed to, but the fact that it took years for news to reach Texas makes that date important and significant.

    2
  38. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: i’d think you’d need two measurements at least a few miles apart.

    1
  39. Joe says:

    @Jen:
    And not to disagree with you @Jen or Steven L. Taylor, but the Emancipation Declaration only freed enslaved people in states that were in rebellion and my vague recollection is that it was effective only when the Union retook the territory. In any event, the date of signature or issuance are not “better” dates, even though I think we all agree that they are irrelevant dates given the history that has built up around Juneteenth by the people who went to the trouble to build it up.

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Joe: In a different century, I spent a year working in a law office. The number of billable hours generated by lawyers in their offices far far far far far far outstripped whatever bits of lawyering they did in a courtroom.

    I just can’t see the courts being closed as being anything more than the most minor of inconveniences for a law firm.

    3
  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Meanwhile, in this Senate are several Senators who were willing to go on record with a vote that says the election was stolen, but none of them wanted to go on record opposing Juneteenth as a holiday. That’s interesting.

    Well said sir, very well said.

    3
  42. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Teve:

    In the original experiment, Eratosthenes made the assumption that Syene is on the tropic of cancer and that Syene and Alexander are on the same meridian (both of which are close enough to true for his purposes). Then you only need one measurement at Alexandria at local noon on the solstice and the known distance between Syene and Alexandria, because the “measurement” at Syene will necessarily be zero.

    In class, we did it at local noon on the day of the fall equinox, and were given a known distance from our school to an imaginary Syene on the Equator and were basically doing the Alexandria measurement.

    4
  43. mattbernius says:

    @JKB:
    Way to point out once again how those backwards blacks got it wrong. Just like when you defended confederate statues staying up. Oh and said that slavery wasn’t that bad because slave owners had to treat their property well in order to make money.

    No… Wait… Eff you and you constant low key John Birch society racism.

    12
  44. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: gotcha!

    It’s amazing how much science you can do with a few simple Trig concepts.

  45. Jax says:

    @Jen: I was doing a lot of genealogy research over the winter and found one particular Louisiana branch that took off for Texas in the 1860’s. Didn’t think much of it til I started looking at tax records and realized they were hauling ass with their slaves while they still could. Every record I pulled up after that, I admit I glared harder at the computer. I felt no pity at all when their death records showed they were killed in their 40’s, and shortly after 1865. I have had no luck finding out what happened to their slaves after Juneteenth, so far.

    3
  46. CSK says:

    The bill passed the House, 415-14.

  47. Joe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Your office is not my office. Luckily my office has a lot of different practice areas. Some never see a court. Some are at a standstill without it. We learned this in spades when the pandemic closed things down. You are not wrong that a one-day holiday is a minor inconvenience to us. But still minor > zero. Experts agree. It feels good to declare holidays (and I remain steadfast this one is worthwhile). But adding holidays to the year has a finite cost. It is not zero.

    (Now let’s talk about the first retailer to advertise a Juneteenth sale.)

  48. Bill says:

    When I moved to Texas I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning this thing, it was years later that I heard the story. Granted, nobody could enforce the emancipation proclamation during the war, so it was 2 months after Lee surrendered that the Union troops dropped the news on them in Galveston.
    But still, nobody really celebrates the day here, as most people never heard or cared about the Republican party freeing slaves again. The weirdest part is that it’s exclusively a Texas thing….but sure, create something out of nothing again…and go national!

  49. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jax: I have a deep Texas branch in my family tree. How deep I’ve never tried to figure. If I digged, I would not in the least be surprised to find some miscegenation in the old family tree. Truth be told, I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t some there.

  50. CSK says:

    @Joe:
    They already are. Google “Juneteenth sale.” The KR Style Boutique is offering 20% off!!!!!

  51. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Joe: Like I said, it was a different century, different practice, etc. Still, I can’t see the impact. (not lookin’ for an argument, jus sayin’… 99.9% of my law firms practice came from things that happened no where near a court room)

    ETA: We learned this in spades when the pandemic closed things down.

    Closing down for the pandemic is NOT like being unable to make a court filing on one particular day. Still jus’ sayin’

    1
  52. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Bill:But still, nobody really celebrates the day here, as most people never heard or cared about the Republican party freeing slaves again. The weirdest part is that it’s exclusively a Texas thing…. but sure, create something out of nothing again…and go national!

    Spoken as a truly white Texan.

    5
  53. Teve says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Bill’s comment is the whitest comment I’ve seen since a guy wearing a vintage t-shirt who is spiritual but not religious talked about playing bridge while at the food co-op listening to an NPR interview of David Sedaris on their AirPods.

    2
  54. Teve says:
  55. Teve says:

    @CSK:

    The bill passed the House, 415-14

    I’m sure those 14 weren’t, like, all members of a political party with white supremacy issues.

  56. Teve says:

    LOLOL

    Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mt., was the only member of Congress to release a statement opposing the bill prior to the vote.

    “Let’s call an ace an ace. This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country,” Rosendale’s statement said.

    In a tweet, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas responded: “Kooky.”

    FWIW, Texas first observed Juneteenth as a state holiday 41 years ago.

    4
  57. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    You can guess who they are.

  58. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Ole Jim Brown is yet again in the Black minority on Juneteenth. Never celebrated–never will. I am, however, happy for my people that find this a meaningful conciliatory gesture by the Uncle Sam. This means alot to them. Great day!

    5
  59. Joe says:

    @Bill:
    My Illinois grandfather did a stint in Texas in the 19-teens. He told me in the 1960s about being taught by the “colored folk” who worked for him about Juneteenth and why nobody came to work that day. He was a northern boy and needed some education, but he heard it, he understood it, and he shared it with me back in Illinois when I was a small child. He taught me this was an important day to people. I have known about it in Illinois since I was a small child.

    3
  60. Jax says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It’s the same Norwegian branch that when I got back to the 1500’s, I was doing a lot of “Wait a goddamn minute….y’all got the same Grandma, but you got married?! And then married your kids to your great aunt’s grand-kids?!”

    Genealogy is not for the faint of heart. You find ugly secrets.

  61. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “Similarly, Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, the first joint harvest festival of Pilgrims and Native Americans was almost certainly not in November, much less on any specific Thursday, and none of the important bits related to the Declaration of Independence happened on July 4. This puts Juneteenth in illustrious company.”

    Adding on – JKB, we appreciate your ‘special intellectual concern’ on this matter, which as Dr.DaveT pointed out, would also apply to other holidays.

  62. Barry says:

    @Joe: “(Now let’s talk about the first retailer to advertise a Juneteenth sale.)”

    Those banners would have gone up months ago, if they had known 🙂

  63. Jen says:

    @Teve: Wow, it’s like he used up a whole booklet of white supremacist madlibs for that statement.

  64. @Bill:

    When I moved to Texas I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning this thing, it was years later that I heard the story.

    Well, in terms of dueling anecdotes, I learned about Juneteenth in 7th grade Texas History class (early 1980s). I recall, as a kid, Black communities celebrating (not in some massive, widespread ways, but I remember adverts about events).

    In terms of actual history:

    In the late 1970s when the Texas Legislature declared Juneteenth a “holiday of significance […] particularly to the blacks of Texas,”[29] it became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday.[45] The bill passed through the Texas Legislature in 1979 and was officially made a state holiday on January 1, 1980.[26] Juneteenth is a “partial staffing” holiday in Texas; government offices do not close but agencies may operate with reduced staff, and employees may either celebrate this holiday or substitute it with one of four “optional holidays” recognized by Texas.[46][failed verification] In the late 1980s, there were major celebrations of Juneteenth in California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.[18]

    In 1996, the first legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997, Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage), who “successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day”, and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.[47]

    So, not exclusively a Texas thing,and not out of nothing.

    The weirdest part is that it’s exclusively a Texas thing….but sure, create something out of nothing again…and go national!

    Again, on the anecdotal level, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery is having a celebration this weekend (and has for years). See, also, all the states listed above.

    4
  65. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor don’t go pushing your liberal lies. The next thing you would have us believe is that TEXAS REPUBLICAN Senator John Cornyn was one of the co-sponsors of the bill for this made-up holiday that any real Texan has never heard of or heard of people celebrating.

    3
  66. @mattbernius: Big, if true.

    1
  67. DrDaveT says:

    @Jax:

    Genealogy is not for the faint of heart. You find ugly secrets.

    Yeah, my family tree is more of a topiary shrub with some grafting here and there…